On my last day of ninth grade, my English teacher’s parting words to us were that, as sophomores, we would become wise fools. Her speech came from the etimology of the word sophomore, where the wise part derived from the word sophos (ie: sophisticated) and fool came from moros (ie: moron). And here I sit four years later on the brink of becoming a wise fool all over again. If I knew on August 29th, what I knew today, I honestly don't know if I would do anything that differently because uh what are our parents always saying, it was a learning experience or something? Either way, I’ll bid my freshmen year as a blogger farewell by dedicating my two part final blog post to the Amherst College Class of 2016. In this post, I’ll leave you guys with 20 wise things to do as a freshman at Amherst, and 16 foolish things to do – more commonly known as Dos and Don’ts.
But just like RC Spence left me hanging for his final video blog post two years ago, I too will make you email me for the full copy of my 36 tokens of wisefooldom :)
1) Try new things. As my gurl Kelly Clarkson says, “Take a chance, make change, and break away.” Never done a sport before? Cool, join one! Even if it only seems remotely interesting, sign up for whatever clubs and activities look cool to you. Even if none of your friends are joining these things, there is no better way to branch out and meet new people than to explore activities with them. And who knows? You just might like the things you do! Remember, freshmen year is not the time to relive the last four years of high school, but to expand upon them. So “spring your wings and learn how to fly!” Trust Kelly, she knows.
2) Take advantage of your resources. Honestly, during first semester I thought I was too busy to use the Writing Center (connected to Charles Pratt dormitory). But IT IS EXPONENTIALLY HELPFUL! Even if you already think you’re a strong writer, which you probably are, these quick yet in depth 45-minute sessions will really help you highlight your strengths and weaknesses. After a few sessions, you'll really start to improve in your writing AND in your grades (which is always helpful). Chances are, your professors at Amherst will only grade your papers once. So why not get graded beforehand and make the improvements necessary to get a better grade on the grade that actually counts? Also, don't panic if your paper isn't finished in time for the appointment that you scheduled -- you're welcome to bring notes, outlines, or even just a prompt to the writing center for guidance and feedback.
Similarly, I think hands down the most underrated place at Amherst is the Moss Quantative Skills center, aka the Q Center, located in the labyrinth that is Merrill. Could I have survived Calculus and Economics last semester without Q Center head Tim St. Onge's Zen advice? Debatable. Could I have survived last semester in general without the Q Center's comfy couches, free cookies and hot chcolate, and free printing? NO! I honestly don't know why that room isn't jam packed at all times. Even if you’re not taking any quantitative classes, it’s a quiet place to read or study or write and like I said, there’s free snacks and printing. Frost A Level can’t offer you that.
Last note, take advantage of office hours! Honestly, you should attend at least one office hour a week. And considering you’ll be taking at least 4 classes with 4 office hours a week, that’s not asking too much. These hours are designed specifically for you to engage with your professors. So go bring them a draft of your essay, ask them to clarify some points on yesterday’s lecture, talk to them about last night’s Yankee triumph over the Red Sox. Whatever you choose to say in these times, this is your chance to get closer to the brilliant resources that are here to help you throughout your four years.
3) Forsake sleep once in a while. “What?! That’s horrible advice! Sleep is important. Sleep is healthy. Sleep is love.” You’re 3000% right. Don’t be that cranky guy who’s mumbling under his breath in line at Val because YOU decided to pull 3 all-nighters in a row. That’s never fun. But I don’t know how many hilarious, amazing, and eye-opening late night conversations I would have missed with my dorm mates if I would’ve went to bed every night at 9. Procrastination is okay. I repeat OKAY! Don’t let it take over your life. But don’t be afraid to take out an hour or two everyday to watch a movie with your friends, go on a walk around campus, or have a late night debate about Nickelodeon vs. Disney. After all, there’s more to college than just papers and problem sets. You learn just as much from hanging out with the people around you as you do from the books.
4) Speaking of books, don’t buy them unless you absolutely have to. Nearly ever professor gives out a syllabus on the first day of classes with a list of assignments and a list of books. Go on the Amherst Library website and look for each and every single book through the 5 College Consortium database, not just the Amherst database. If your search returns a few hits, request those items and wait for your EMAIL ;) telling you to pick them up from Frost. You can keep these books for the semester and return them to Frost Library, even if they’re from Smith, once you don’t need them anymore! I literally made it through all of Europe in the 20th Century without spending one cent. Half of my Political Science and Legal Theory class went the same way.
“But Lydia! What about the other half?!”
Only pay full sticker for a book if you must. You can find reasonably priced books at Amherst’s Student Run used bookstore called “The Option” or by talking to upperclassmen and finding deals from them.
5) Check your email religiously. This one’s pretty simple – just do it. I’m not saying to read and memorize all AAS spam verbatim, but you don’t want to be the guy who missed out on the 100 free tshirts in Keefe or the Thanksgiving air port shuttle sign ups because you’re too cool to refresh your inbox every few hours. You’re famous. People want to talk to you. Own it.
The best emails to thoroughly read are the Amherst College E-Digest and MRC Weekly, which concisely list all the fun events of the week as well as important deadlines for classes or trips or other things.
6) Make dat money. Building on my last point, news of Psychology Department Studies almost always comes via email. $5-$10 for 20-30 minutes of your time is a sweet deal. Like, I just got back from Bueno Y Sano (the best burrito joint in town) because I got a $20 gift card after doing a one hour psych study a few weeks ago. It’s an awesome way to help out your upperclassmen friends with their theses while sustaining your junk food addiction.
7) Get off campus. It’s easy to get caught up in the “Amherst Bubble” and start to feel bogged down by the same scenery. To avoid this stagnation, venture into town one or twice per week. Even if it’s just to buy some toothpaste at CVS, it’s nice to see a world beyond the freshmen quad sometimes. Personally, I found solace in going to one of Amherst’s many churches every week and interacting with the people of the Amherst community there. A few weeks ago, our reverend procured a few dozen tickets to the Amherst Cinema so that we could see the movie Bully and have a parish discussion about bullying in our society. Similarly, friends of mine often tutor in schools around Amherst and Mount Holyoke or participate in organizations like Girls Inc or Big Brothers, Big Sisters. It truly is an enriching part of the Amherst experience to build community ties and feel like a part of the town beyond just the college.
8) Take advantage of the Liberal Arts curriculum. You’ll quickly learn from skyping with friends at other schools that only at a handful of other colleges across the country can you take whatever classes you want all four years. There are no general education requirements which allows you to design your our schedule and choose from a breadth of different subjects – so do that! If you’re into sciences, it’s time to take a guitar lesson. If you’re a history buff, you should delve into astronomy. If there’s one thing I’ve discovered during the three times that I’ve had to register for classes at Amherst, it’s that the hardest thing about designing your schedule is that you only have 32 classes over the 4 years and there are hundreds of interesting classes within the 5 College Consortium to choose from. So explore!
9) Take pride in Lord Jeff nation. You go to a school where the football team had an undefeated season and beat Williams at THEIR homecoming game. This year alone, we pocketed 6 NESCAC titles. Twice in one weekend, I stormed the court at LeFrak gymnasium at games that helped put both of our basketball teams on the road to the NCAA finals. Even if all these acronyms mean nothing to you and you’ve never played a sport in your life, you should make the effort to attend a few games during your freshman year. Homecoming and all-Williams games are undoubtedly the most fun, but either way, sporting events are a fun way to relax with friends and take pride in being the athletic powerhouse of the NESCAC league.
10) Use the middle stall in the bathroom in Val (ladies). It’s the only stall with a hanger for your purse/back pack. Pretty straight forward. Nobody wants to put their bag on the floor.
If you like where this is going, email me for the other ten! They get pretty juicy. And stay tuned for my "16 Don’ts".